(Page 2 of 2)
But that hardly means that the sari is headed for extinction.
Globalization is certainly giving Indian women options outside the sari, forcing it to share wardrobe space with cocktail dresses, evening gowns, and corporate pant-suits. But it is also giving them more options within the sari. The stodgy-old men and the Indian guidos are still there in Connaught Place and Karol Bagh respectively selling traditional benaresis and tanchois. But these markets are now supplemented with trendy new malls such as Square One in the outskirts of New Delhi whose sales staff consists of well-turned out girls with trim figures. More to the point, Square One saris reflect a cross-pollination of ideas, a blending of traditional and Western elements, that wouldn’t be possible without globalization. The biggest transformation is the cocktailization of the blouses worn beneath the sari that are becoming skimpier and bolder—driving traditionalists crazy. But the saris themselves are experimenting with all kinds of new fabrics and designs, sometimes with absolutely stunning results. I am still fantasizing about a black crepe sari I saw some years ago studded with Swarovski crystals and kundan stones—kind of like rough-cut diamonds used in Indian jewelry—with a matching backless blouse, all for the modest sum of $10,000, which, incidentally, Indian woman can more easily afford thanks to the greater disposable income that globalization has put in their bejeweled purses!
I canvassed a group of Indian friends—engineers, Bollywood script-writers, entrepreneurs, executives, doctors, dancers—inside and outside India, all of whom have a healthy interest in fashion, and asked them how they felt when they wore a sari. The words they used were: feminine, beautiful, sexy, glamorous, chic, classy, different, comfortable, rooted, confident, and, above all, in keeping with our modern times, powerful. I am sure if I had posed the same question to women in my mother’s generation, they would have said: traditional, beautiful, honorable, appropriate, respectable, chaste/pure, domestic, spiritual.
In short, the sari has seamlessly transformed itself, trading the values of tradition for those of modernity. Some garments are specific, sociologically contingent. A sari is eternal because ever evolving. And as it evolves, far from fading in India, its appeal will likely spread, gaining it new converts outside India. I am waiting for Angelina Jolie to appear in a black lycra sari with a leather bustier in the next Tomb Raider!
All that designers need to do to “save” the sari then is to figure out what women want from their saris and give it to them. If they are looking for a crusade, the Bengal Tigers really could use some help.
Shikha Dalmia, a native of India, is a senior analyst at
Reason Foundation and a Forbes columnist. This column originally
appeared at Forbes.